Amazon.com’s ‘Vine Program’ Can Either Help Or Hurt You

Not all marketing tools are created equal. Some will move books; some will bite you where the sun doesn’t shine. Today, allow me to tell how the use of one book marketing tool could have sunk my book.

“The Amazon.com Vine Program” is a service offered by Amazon.com to book publishers. Basically, publishers contract with Amazon.com to send out a certain number of books to reviewers in exchange for their unbiased ratings. Theoretically, it’s a way to jump-start ratings on an author’s page immediately after a book is released.

But there can be problems with this system. In at least one case that I know of (MINE!), the publisher failed to communicate with the Vine Program that the book in question had a Christian viewpoint. And since nothing noticeably Christian appeared in the title, subtitle, cover art, or even in the book’s description, it was a cauldron of trouble. The book ended up being inadvertently sent to people unsympathetic to faith issues who rated the book poorly and then slammed the publisher for being deceptive about its religious agenda.

You could argue that this was really the publisher’s mistake and not the Vine Program’s. But it still highlights the fact that the Vine Program can be utilized ineffectively and, hence, end up hurting your efforts more than helping.

How can you avoid this situation? Ask your PR and/or marketing folks if they intend to utilize the Vine Program. If so, work with your agent to make sure your publisher adequately broadcasts your book’s content through its title, subtitle, description, and cover art. Otherwise, your book won’t get to its intended readers, and your reviews may be less than stellar.

Even if this Vine problem doesn’t happen to you, expect some unfair ratings to come your way in the Amazon.com rating system. People are imperfect; therefore, readers (and publishers and authors) are imperfect. Some readers aren’t capable of understanding what you say, and others read too hastily or misunderstand your message for other reasons.

The good news is, eventually, justice tends to prevail. Unfair and/or misleading reviews tend to fall off the map. Once enough people rate the unfair reviews as “unhelpful,” the Amazon.com rating system automatically deletes them.

In addition, reviewers have the option to “comment” on each other’s reviews and clear up any confusion. (Only, sometimes, their comments make things worse rather than better. You should see the caustic verbiage that flew back and forth between two reviewers of my book, The Eden Diet. I have an overall five-star rating, but I got a two-star review that apparently ticked off one of my supporters. The comments that followed were so mean that they were actually funny–in a “Pulp Fiction” kind of shocking-human-nature way. It was like a psychology experiment went wrong, right on my Amazon.com review page. Thanks a lot, people!)

The point is, online review systems are fraught with inherent inaccuracy and bias, and they sometimes hurt more than help. But if you want to be a writer, you have to get used to this and other imperfections in the system as a whole. That’s why book writing (and the reading of book reviews on said writing) is not for the faint of heart!

Care to share some of your review experiences?

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14 thoughts on “Amazon.com’s ‘Vine Program’ Can Either Help Or Hurt You

  1. Hi Doctor Rita,

    Thanks for the heads up. Wise words, born from the refining fire!! Appreciate your sharing it.

    Here is one of our experiences with marketing. We sent out advance copies of the first few chapters to about 30 people last June, and most were more than positive. However, one said something like “This is the worst thing I’ve ever read… etc.” It was disappointing but you forge ahead, right? (Didn’t choose to highlight that quote though, ha!)

    Fast forward to about three weeks ago. A family member of that same reader received a hardcover copy from someone who loved it and shared.She’d just finished reading it and wrote to say she loved it too. (Amazing! May was so excited, she did a backflip!!)

    I responded with thanks, and reminded her of his comments. She’s not written us back.

    It will be interesting if he re-reads those first chapters, and the rest, and has changed his view. Either way is fine.

    Our stories resonate with some and don’t with others. One thing for sure, these situations keep us humble!

    Thank you again for alerting us to a potential entangling snare on our path. Happy writing!

  2. You’re link to the comment war isn’t working, just to let you know. I think we secretly hope everyone will love our book, but it’s good to be aware that they won’t. I’ve jumped in a time or two when I read an unfair comment on Amazon. I beleive we should be honest in our opinions, but still respectful of the work that went into creating the product.

    • You’re right, thanks. I just fixed it. If the link breaks again, you can go to Amazon.com and search “The Eden Diet.” Once you get to my page, click on “156 reviews” and you should be able to find your entertainment for the evening. I admit I’m not embarrassed by these low reviews because I still have five stars, overall. Plus, the main things people objected to were that (1) the book wasn’t what they expected based on its packaging; and (2) some people didn’t understand how our faith could relate to diet. Neither of those things was offensive to me, personally, so I it wasn’t that hard to blow it all off.

  3. I paid for a blog tour and sent a company a bunch of books. When one of their reviewers received her copy she put it in a pile and got mixed up, thinking it was sent by someone else. Long story short, she immediately gave it a poor review – my lowest review on Amazon, meaning, I see it every time I go there. Although she was sorry for her mistake and how it also threw off my blog tour, what’s done was done. I paid a lot of money for that poor review, but I also paid for a lesson that I’m still trying to learn. I need to lean on God for my book, not on man. God’s bigger and it’s in His hands, not mine. I simply need to leave it there and practice what my book talks about: trusting God’s Sovereignty, mystery, and perfect timing.

    Thanks for the great post, Dr. Rita!

  4. It sounds like your book would likely have had issues with low ratings, regardless of whether you used The Amazon,com Vine Program. Reader’s opinions, expressed in reviews, have a lot to do with their personal expectations…which are greatly influenced by title, cover art, and book description.

    I hope you changed your book description to better reflect content and perspective!

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is a very good illustration of the need to use available tools to let potential readers know what to expect between the covers of our books.

    • Sadly, many things are out of authors’ control when we contract with publishers. We get nominal say, at best, in terms of book cover design, titles and subtitles, etc. And we certainly don’t get much say in book marketing and PR activities.

      Being at the mercy of publishers makes self-publishing look like an attractive option by comparison, but there are problems in the self-publishing arena, too, as I will point out in my next blog article.

      The point is nothing about any aspect of the publishing biz is perfect, mostly because people are imperfect and groups of people are even more imperfect. Thus, you just have to do what you know is right and trust God to work things out according to His purposes through your books, when all is said and done.

      • Ah! Self-pub is my only experience thus far, so I tend to forget about the lack of control issues with traditional pub’.

        “…you just have to do what you know is right and trust God to work things out according to His purposes through your books, when all is said and done.”

        I completely agree, and keep coming back to this same truth, myself, in my marketing efforts (or lack thereof).

        Thanks!

  5. Rita, call me a novice (and I am), but I’ve never even heard of the Vine Program. Thank you so much for this wealth of information about potential land mines. Have an awesome weekend!

  6. You’re right, Rita, having a thick skin is so necessary for a writer. I had one reviewer say he saw my book panned by another reviewer, and immediately figured he’d love my book, since he always had the opposite reaction to the other reviewer! It’s all subjective in the end, which is just the nature of the business.

  7. Thanks for the comments, guys. I imagine every writer has stories like these that involve apparent “injustices.” Why should writing be any different from life, in general, which is also imperfect? We just have to learn from these experiences, forgive those who “hurt” us, and move on to new pursuits that glorify God in bigger and better ways.

  8. Interesting insight, Rita. Thanks for sharing your experience. There’s a lot to think about.

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  10. Hi Rita, Thank you for the information. There’s so much to learn out there in world of social media and computer book sales and reviews. I’ve been fortunate in many of my reviews but one highly negative review was so silly I couldn’t even get mad about it. The review ran in a major paper in a large American city. The reviewer gave a good overview of the novel’s plot and then began to rant about its one major shortcoming – mainly that I, the author, had chosen to write a NOVEL rather than a book of non-fiction. He couldn’t understand why anyone thought novels to be worthwhile reading and on and on….. I decided that if he was a judge in a dog show, he’d have given all the dogs low numbers because they weren’t cats. It takes all kinds!

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